Any mercy for trash throwers in Horry County ended Tuesday.
Frustrated with the Grand Strand’s struggles to reduce litter along roadways, county council agreed to eliminate warnings for litter violations. This means every time a county police officer sees someone flinging a soda can into a ditch or allowing paper plates to fly out of a pickup bed, the officer writes a ticket. No written reprimand. No scolding.
“There has to be a change of behavior,” said councilman Al Allen, who proposed the “no breaks” policy. “And if you’ll ride the secondary roads, most of our garbage is coming from people inside of Horry County. It is not coming from the tourists. … It’s time for us to start, as Horry County residents, taking pride back in our own yard here. This is our home. We don’t need to trash it.”
There has to be a change of behavior. And if you’ll ride the secondary roads, most of our garbage is coming from people inside of Horry County. It is not coming from the tourists. … It’s time for us to start, as Horry County residents, taking pride back in our own yard here. This is our home. We don’t need to trash it.
Horry County Councilman Al Allen
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In recent years, Horry officials have tried to combat the litter problem, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a litter control department and organizing an annual community cleanup day.
Yet last year the county’s litter index — an annual survey of major roadways and public spaces — showed the community was getting trashier, not cleaner. It was the first time the index had increased since the survey began in 2011.
The index is compiled by the Keep Horry County Beautiful Committee, which coordinates community cleanups and promotes litter control. The survey ranks 107 sites based on a scale of 1-4 with 1 being tidy and 4 being a mess. This year, the index average improved slightly, falling from 2.14 in 2015 to 2.07. Some of the highest profile areas with the worst litter were Forestbrook Road (3), the U.S. 501/S.C. 31 interchange (4) and the S.C. 31/International Drive interchange (4).
Although the litter index is moving in the right direction, there’s much more to do, said Bo Ives, chairman of Keep Horry County Beautiful.
Ives, who presented the results of the latest litter index to county officials Tuesday night, said he supports Allen’s recommendation.
“People need to squeal that they’ve been fined the maximum fine for littering before we’ll change behavior,” he said.
The state’s litter fines range from $200 to $1,087, plus court fees. The amount of the fine depends on the weight of the litter. The most severe offenders face 30 days to one year in jail as well as community service hours. There’s also an illegal dumping violation that carries a fine of $1,000 and 15 hours of litter-gathering labor.
Palmetto Pride, a statewide litter reduction initiative, promotes April as “zero tolerance” month for litter, urging law enforcement to crack down on those who trash the state. Ives said he’s pleased that Allen’s proposal goes beyond a single month.
“It’s preventable,” he said. “That’s the message. It’s all preventable. And that’s what makes council so angry. Why do they need to increase taxes to clean up behind people when it’s preventable?”
The idea for a “no breaks” litter policy came from Allen’s time as a training sergeant with the Conway Police Department. Years ago, the city was having problems with speeding on Laurel and Elm streets, so the police chief decided there would be no tolerance for speeding there. He ordered his officers to write only tickets to those caught traveling too fast on those streets.
“No ifs, ands or buts about it,” Allen said.
The councilman acknowledges that catching litterbugs isn’t easy. People often toss trash out of their vehicles at night or when police can’t see them. And the county can’t control what sentence a judge imposes.
But if the county police can make an impression with the cases they do have, he said, that could deter some folks from using the area’s roads and ditches as their dumping grounds.
“If you get stopped for littering, you will receive a ticket,” Allen said. “You will be charged to the maximum extent of the law because we’ve invested in it, we’ve pleaded, we’ve had these pickup days etc., etc. and the message is not getting across to our locals.”
How much litter does the county pick up?
The county’s litter crews regularly clean along the major thoroughfares such as U.S. 501, S.C. 31 and S.C. 22. Each month, they cover about 272 miles.
Since the litter department’s last report to county council on Feb. 3, 2015, crews have cleaned more than 3,500 miles of roads, collected more than 15,000 bags of litter, cleared close to 140 dump sites, picked up over 420 tires and hauled off nearly 60 appliances or large pieces of furniture, according to data presented Tuesday.
“These are big numbers,” said David Gilreath, the county’s public works director.
To put the data into perspective, Gilreath said that if the county had not used its litter control teams over the last 13 months, between Conway and Myrtle Beach on U.S. 501 there would be at least one refrigerator, a Christmas tree, eight mattresses, hundreds of cardboard boxes, 58 dump truck loads of debris and 1,753 bags of trash in the right of way.
“Basically that’s a bag of trash every nine steps between Conway and Myrtle Beach,” he said. “When I try to start penciling those in, it’s kind of surprising.”